About 500 delegates from 60 countries convened in Bangkok, Thailand, to take part in the Official Celebrations of the World Tourism Day this year dedicated to the theme ‘Tourism for all: Promoting Universal Accessibility.’ Policy frameworks, capacity building, business strategies and awareness raising were some of the areas tackled during the week of events that commenced on the 26th September with a ‘Tourism and the Media’ Session.
During two days participants from 60 countries exchanged best practices and experiences on accessible tourism and have committed to advance universal accessibility in all components of the tourism value chain to ensure all citizens enjoy the benefits of travel, whatever their abilities may be.
“As one billion people across the globe have some kind of disability, accessibility becomes and will continue to be a major concern for us all” said Gen. Prayut Chan-o-Cha, Prime Minister of Thailand who presided over the Official Celebrations on 27 September. “We need to create more accessibility, for all including the ageing groups. We need to provide better services for all. This is also part of our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals” he added.
“We should not leave anyone behind. We believe we have to do more, understand better the needs of these groups. The World Tourism Day celebrations in Thailand have acted as a platform to sensitize us all about the importance of adapting the sector to the needs of all citizens and we should work in closer cooperation now to meet the demands of travelers worldwide” said Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports of Thailand.
“People with disabilities, aged citizens, families with children and many more find obstacles when they travel. As tourism is a human right, the sector should advance to ensure that all citizens enjoy seamless travel in an equal manner,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in his message.
“Products and services aiming to increase the accessibility of travel add value to destinations and constitute an immense opportunity for the business sector” emphasized David Scowsill, President and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
“All of us have somebody who finds difficulties when travelling: family members, friends and colleagues, so we all are affected and can benefit from accessible travel measures” emphasized Mario Hardy, CEO at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
A human right and a business opportunity
The first event of the week, the ‘Tourism and the Media’ workshop, held in cooperation with the Chulalongkorn University, served as a platform to discuss the role of the media in supporting Accessible Tourism.
“Journalists, editors, photographers, documentary producers…can do a lot in sensitizing the general public about Accessibility and by pushing their respective governments towards the necessary regulatory frameworks towards Universal Design in the tourism sector,” explained Xu Jing, Regional Director of Asia and the Pacific at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Together with the commitment of governments and the need to develop regulatory frameworks linked to accessibility-related measures, the World Tourism Day celebrations have served to emphasize the immense business opportunities that Universal Design can bring to the tourism sector.: “Sooner or later all of us will suffer circumstances that impede us moving freely and independently, so adapting Universal Accessibility principles will benefit us all” underlined Ivor Ambrose, Director of ENAT, the European Network of Accessible Tourism. He added that by 2050, as much as 22% of the world population will be over 60 years old and thus have specific access needs.
The first round table included the participation of the Secretary General of Thai Disabled Development Foundation, and former Minister of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, Weerasak Kowsurat, Monthien Boontan, Member of the Thai Senate and of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Dissabilites, Benito C. Bengzon, Undersecretary of the Department of Tourism in the Philippines, Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism of the Cambodia, Mr. Walter Mzembi, Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Mr. Guy Didier Hypollite, Minister of Tourism and Creative Industries of Haiti and Mr. Dato Sri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Tourism and Culture of Malaysia. Moderated by Andrew Steven, CNN anchor, the Session discussed the application of policy and regulatory frameworks aimed at achieving ‘Tourism for All.’
The second debate, moderated by Anita Mendiratta, CNN Task Group, Lead Consultant, addressed the relevance of innovative strategies to foster accessible tourism infrastructure, products and services to enhance destination competitiveness. A number of best practices were featured by speakers such as Martin Heng, Accessible Travel Manager at Lonely Planet, Natthadej Suyadej, from Wheelchair Holidays Thailand, Hideto Kijima, President at the Japan Accessible Tourism Center, Svend Leirvaag, VP Industry Affairs at Amadeus IT Group and Sergio Guerreiro, Knowledge Management and Corporate Affairs at Turismo de Portugal.
Bangkok Declaration on Tourism for All
On the occasion of World Tourism Day 2016 participants adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Tourism For All, a document resulting from a consultation process involving governments, the private sector, civil society organizations and accessibility experts.
The Declaration calls upon all stakeholders to advance policies and business actions that promote universal accessibility, including training, awareness raising as well as considering Universal Design in all new tourism infrastructure and services and while adapting existing ones.
The celebrations of World Tourism Day 2016 were held in collaboration with CNN, UNWTO media partner.
World Tourism Day 2017 will be held in Qatar as decides by the 21st UNWTO General Assembly held in 2015 and will address the theme ‘Sustainable Tourism – a Tool for Development’, in line with the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.